In a unique stroke of rooming accommodations, Greg Ives experienced a first, sleeping above the Garage 56 Le Mans test car that hit the track for the first time earlier this week.
Ives drew pole position on the lodging list for the rooms overlooking the pit lane at Virginia International Raceway. Just below Room 1 was Garage 1 on the ground level of VIR’s north paddock, where the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 tester made its home for two days of on-track duty.
“No, I’ve slept under my car. I’ve slept in my car,” said Ives, making a strong nod to the tireless days he spent racing and wrenching on the Late Model circuit before reaching NASCAR’s national-series level. “Never had that nice of accommodations above my car, that’s for sure. Yeah, growing up as a racer, you put yourself in a lot of situations that prepare you for times like this, especially a new project and new parts, pieces, people, and learning every lap.
“So it’s been a fun experience so far, but for sure, sleeping around a race car is nothing new to me.”
RELATED: Garage 56 VIR test recap
Ives was in a familiar place with his headset back on in testing sessions Monday and Tuesday for the Garage 56 project, a collaborative effort among NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Goodyear, Chevrolet and others. The longtime crew chief had just completed his tenure with Hendrick’s No. 48 Chevy team in the season finale at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 6. After returning to Charlotte the next day, his transition to Garage 56 began.
“Got home from Phoenix about 5 or so and went in to work and, you know, started thrashing on seeing how I can contribute and help make the project a little more successful,” Ives said.
The Garage 56 initiative was announced March 17 with the intent of competing in the 2023 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 10-11. The proposed entry is based on the Next Gen car that debuted this season in the NASCAR Cup Series. The modified Camaro test car that road-racing ace Mike Rockenfeller drove Monday and Tuesday on VIR’s 3.27-mile full-course configuration is said to closely resemble what the final version will be for its planned trip to Le Mans.
Ives indicated Aug. 26 that he would retire from his role as a full-time crew chief after eight seasons at the Cup Series level. At the time of his announcement, Ives said that he would remain with the organization to work closely with VP of competition Chad Knaus, the Garage 56 project lead, and would take direction from executive leaders Jeff Gordon and Jeff Andrews.
Monday and Tuesday depicted the first illustration of that next phase, with Ives getting up to speed with the personnel who have been involved with the project since the first blast of fanfare last March. By design, his new role shared a resemblance with his former duties on the No. 48 team.
“That’s my official role on here is crew chief, but ultimately we have a lot of smart people on this team that collectively, if we can work together and come up with a common solution, I feel it’s gonna be a better program,” Ives said. “But yeah, I think you have to have those people in place to have the titles and have where the responsibility lies, but I feel like everybody on this team contributes at a high level. And this is one of the first of many tests that we’re going to have going to Le Mans, and we’re going to kind of figure out what our roles are as we go and try to understand each other. I think a lot of different personalities and dynamics we have to work through, but that’s ultimately where it’s going to lie.”
Ives found himself meshing with the Garage 56 team early on at VIR, getting hands-on and in the trenches to sort through a Monday morning electrical issue and then maximizing the learnings from the test car’s on-track time. The group made adjustments to the car’s balance and aerodynamics, and squeezed in some wet-weather runs after the already cold weather turned damp Tuesday morning.
“We’ve been through a lot of trials here, and I think we’ve been able to fix about every one of them, so a lot of experience there,” Ives said during a midday break Tuesday. “Obviously, we want more laps on track, but if the downtime here and trying to fix and understand what the problems are helps us when we get to Le Mans in June, it’s going to pay off big time. We’re going to know right where to look, understand where the issue is, what’s causing it, and be able to remedy it quickly.
“That all comes from experience and track testing allows you to gain that experience without failures. So, we’re going to come out of this test with a lot of successes.”
Ives also assisted in keeping team owner Rick Hendrick apprised of all the developments by phone and text during the two-day test. Ives says he’s been on the other end of those types of phone calls, when other obligations have kept him from his son’s go-karting events.
“As soon as they get there, I want to see how it looks and what’s going on and how the car is going, if we’re performing on the race track and what issues we’re running into, and Mr. H. is kind of the same way,” Ives says. “So I love his enthusiasm in it. I can kind of look in the mirror and say, hey, that’s kind of me when my son’s away and I’m stuck doing something different. But it’s an interesting balance and dynamic in every level. No matter your level within racing, whether you’re an owner, a mechanic, a crew chief, an engineer, we all have to have the same passion and the same desire and the same concern — whether our car is capable of going faster or how the test is going or eventually how the race is going to go.”